A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Demon Masks, Soy Beans,Thick Sushi Rolls, Soba Noodles and… Sardine-Heads Posted on Doorways- Celebrating SETSUBUN ( the Eve of the First Day of Spring) in Japan


Getting ready to ritually drive away demons on SETSUBUN

Getting ready to ritually drive away demons on SETSUBUN

By Avi Landau

Most of the world cultures that I can think of have (or had) their own special ways of keeping evil spirits at bay, or even better, far away. Japan is probably the industrialized country with its traditional demon-fighting repertoire most intact. One of the most important and popular of the occasions on which exorcisms are appropriate is SETSUBUN (節分) usually celebrated on February 3rd, the day before the first day of spring (risshun, 立春). The main technique used is bean-throwing (豆まき), highly effective and plenty of fun!

Dressed up as a demon for SETSUBUN!

Usually, Dad wears a demon (oni) mask, easily purchased at any convenience store, and the kids proceed to pelt him with dried soy beans (from packets available at the same stores). While they do this, they shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (Evil out, Good Fortune in!). This is done at the entrance to the house, and then in the other rooms. When the beans are all used up, they are gathered up and each family member usually eats the same number of beans as his/her age. Beans can also be offered to the Shinto and Buddhist altars.

This ceremony remains one of the most popular of the traditional evil fighting customs and you can enjoy the ceremony in various forms at temples and shrines throughout Japan as well as on TV. (You might catch a scene of sumo wrestlers in masks being pelted by excited kids.)

One of the other techniques for keeping evil away in this season has not fared as well as the bean throwing. I’m referring to  YAIKAGASHI, the holly ( hiiragi ヒイラギ) and dried sardine amulets which in not very former times would adorn the entranceways of most houses in this area ( and still do in the old town of Hojo where I live- in fact they can be seen at door posts ALL YEAR ROUND in my neighborhood where New Year`s buckwheat noodles- TOSHIKOSHI SOBA- are eaten at on the day of the festival- because until 1873 when the Japanese calendar was changed New Year`s coincided with Setsubun!).

Traditionally the YAIKAGASHI could also contain garlic or welsh onions ( negi) or even some singed strands of human hair!

Since holly has thorned leaves, it was thought to repel demons who were afraid to get poked in the eye, and the sardines would do the same job with their unpleasant, fishy smell. Though the use of these amulets has decreased rapidly over recent years, MANY can be found around town- especially in Tsukuba`s older neighborhoods.

I’ve also taken some pictures of SANPO, containers for soy beans made out of origami paper by nursery school kids.

Another way to celebrate SETSUBUN (or desecrate it by joining in on its commercialization) is to buy the EHO-MAKI (恵方巻き) sushi rolls which are being sold at all the convenience stores and being promoted as efficacious for bringing good fortune by pointing the roll in the properly auspicious directions.

So, there you have it. Take YOUR choice of how you want to keep EVIL away!



At a supermarket in Tsukuba- a special corner displaying different sets for making home-made EHO-MAKI

The power of advertizing! Brisk sales at one the three different special counters of a supermarket selling Eho-Maki, which were all but unknown just a few years ago

An Edo Period print showing demon being repelled by a bean throwing Momo Taro (Peach Boy)- for the ancient Japanese (as influenced by China), the wood of the peach tree was effective in driving off evil. In fact, the precursor of today`s custom of throwing bean, there was a ceremony called the TSUINA in which a reed arrow was fired from a peach wood bow in order to drive away evil forces

An old MASU (square-wwooden measuring box) used for hold the SETSUBUN beans

An old MASU (square-wooden measuring box) used for hold the SETSUBUN beans

The perfect lunch for Setsubun - sardine pasta at Quattro, in Matsushiro - 1000 yen, with coffee.

The perfect lunch for Setsubun – sardine pasta at Quattro, in Matsushiro – 1000 yen, with coffee.


  • Makarova says:

    Thank you! I shall try to celebrate tomorrow, maybe in Asakusa?
    And today is Neko no hi, as I remember? 2.2. Ni-ni. Nya-nya.

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    I have never known Neko no hi (day for cat), so I checked and found that Neko-no-hi is 2/22, was set by Japanese Pet Food Association in 1987 (Heisei 22-year, 22-2-22 ). There are so many newly-set such kind of special days in Japan recently!! Naturally every one easily forget my birthday!?

    Last Friday we visited so-so famous shrine called Osugi-jinja (shrine) 30 km east of Tsukuba-city. We say hello to the gods over there and astonished the fine colored buildings there, there saw some noisy construction work on going. Later we find it was preparation of steel corridor for 2/2 bean throwing.
    The shrine looks very prosperous,my guessed reason is that there Japanese Horse Racing Training Center(under the semi-governmental rich Central Racing Horse Association) nearly located also there is a small shrine of Winner horses specially attached, inviting horse owners,trainers and jockeys getting winning.

    I remember my father’s voice of throwing beans when I was a boy, when I grew up I also threw beans in my house until my children were junior-high-school and quitted during we lived in Australia three years because afraid of beans might cause Opossum-party ,since then there were no Bean-throwing in my house except throwing Mr.Beans.-DVDs.

    I felt much nostalgia by your article that it remind me a famous Smow-wrestler was throwing beans at a shrine in my home–town Nakanoku-Tokyo around 1955. He was a O-zeki rank, named NAYOROIWA.